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Money Talk: Sara Fujimura on the Importance of Talking About Money

Sara Fujimura, author of Faking Reality and Every Reason We Shouldn't, discusses the challenges and successes she's faced with finances as she navigated her writing career. 

By
Sara Fujimura, Interviewed by
7-minute read

Money Girl Laura Adams: When did you decide that you wanted to become an author (or other career)?

Sara Fujimura: Not until after college where I earned a B.S. in Public Health Education. My favorite class in college was Epidemiology, and deadly diseases used to be my jam…that is until March 2020. I am infinitely fascinated by the Spanish Flu and did several articles about it, including one for Perspectives in Health, published by an arm of the World Health Organization. While doing research, I came across all kinds of captivating stories in diaries, letters, newspaper articles, and even some video interviews (much later on) from survivors. I took these true stories and wove them into my young adult historical fiction novel Breathe, which came out in 2018 on the 100th anniversary of the pandemic. Who knew that only two years later, everybody would suddenly become an expert on the Spanish Flu and pandemics in general? While I was doing research (so much research!) for Breathe, I decided to keep going with my storytelling, slowly moving from magazine articles to young adult books full-time.  

MG: Do you write full-time?

SF: I do, but I am also blessed to have a spouse with a stable job and health insurance. I didn’t start writing full-time until after my children finished high school. Before then, I wrote part-time and donated a lot of time to my children’s schools/activities. I don’t regret this at all. It was a time of story-collecting and educating myself on writing craft.

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Writing tends to be a feast-or-famine occupation, and the pandemic hit our profession just as hard as everybody else’s. COVID19 has been the great equalizer. Whether you were the Big Fish or the tiny minnow in your publishing house, NOBODY went out on book tour. This is where being an indie-pubbed author first saved my bacon. Tor Teen (publisher for my third and fourth books) can definitely do things that I can’t, like getting my book reviewed on NPR. But I can also do things that they can’t, like tapping into my local networks and keeping my books alive even when all of my in-person events went *poof* in 2020. Yeah, releasing a new book two weeks before the country goes into lockdown…1 out of 10 stars. Highly would NOT recommend it. With America slowly opening back up, I hope to combine my entrepreneurial spirit with Tor Teen’s fantastic marketing team to make an exponential jump in sales with my latest book, Faking Reality (July 13).   

MG: Did you study writing (or something else) or has it always come naturally to you?

SF: People are often surprised to hear that I do NOT have an English degree. It was my Public Health degree that led me to write. My senior year, one of my professors asked me to be his intern because he knew I could take complex topics and boil them down into accessible information for the general public. Fast-forward to the early 2000s when I received a call from an editor of a homeland security magazine who had seen my articles on the Spanish Flu. He wanted me to take cutting-edge scientific information and boil it down so that first responders could implement it into their jobs. Though I stopped doing magazine work so I could concentrate on book projects, in a way, I am still using this skill. You can enjoy my books as funny, sweet romances. Or, if you want to dig deeper, there is a lot of fact behind the fiction woven into them. I do Behind the Book posts on Instagram frequently to show readers how I brought my books to life.

MG: When you first started writing (or something else), were there any financial challenges? How did you manage them?

SF: Definitely! For most of my twenty years of writing, money has flowed more out than in. Granted, that was a choice. I could write on staff at a newspaper or edit for other authors to create some kind of financial stability in my business, but I don’t.

I reinvest my paychecks into my LLC and update my equipment, attend conferences, and pay for marketing. My first two books were independently published. To ensure that the final product was of the same quality as something found on a Barnes & Noble shelf, I had to spend money. A lot of money.

I hired content editors, copyeditors, experts, historians, and graphic designers. I also needed a large chunk of money for the business side of my book-making. That included everything from purchasing tax licenses, a tent and tables, bookmarks, KDP ads, travel to events, and more. It adds up very quickly, but it paid off. I’ve finally started turning a profit. If Netflix wants to make one of my books into a movie or series, that would definitely help my bottom line.   

MG: What advice would you give someone who's creative or wants to change their lifestyle about balancing passion for their art and earning an income?

SF: Start small and build. I had the safety net of my husband’s job and healthcare underneath me so I could experiment more than maybe some can. Keep reinvesting any income into your business and education. Take the time to build your community and lift up other creatives in your circles.

Talking about money always feels squidgy, but we need to do it!

MG: What productivity tips have helped you achieve success?

SP: My productivity hacks continue to evolve as I listen to a lot of productivity and entrepreneurial podcasts. I agree with the experts that success *doesn’t* come from time management but instead focus management. Not only do I have the usual distractions (social media, snacks, a toddler cat who will eat the couch if she’s feeling ignored), but I also have new ideas pinging around my brain all the time.

Success doesn’t come from time management but instead focus management. 

I often sing to my cat the line from the great contemporary poets/songwriters LMFAO…“Every day I’m shufflin’. Shufflin’. Shufflin’.” If I’ve been burning the midnight oil too much, Tiger Lily might even get some interpretative dance along with it. (For the record, she is not impressed by either.) Seriously though, I’ve yet to turn into the type of author who keeps the same strict writing schedule. I’m always out of balance, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can write a complete (crappy) novel in two months, but it tears up my body, and I become a hermit. With a new book coming out on July 13th (Faking Reality with Tor Teen), launch prep and promo for the new book is my primary focus this month. This fall, I’m planning a long vacation to the East Coast to see my family and probably won’t work at all while I’m there. To help me decide where to put my time, focus, and energy, I use a couple of tools.

  1. I use Brian Moran’s 12-Week Year philosophy (https://12weekyear.com/)  to help me cull the ideas and decide where to put my focus each “year.” That way, I don’t have a big freak out every December. The system helps me go deeper on fewer things, and that’s how progress realistically happens.
  2. I use Todoist (https://todoist.com/) to park all the tasks. Granted there are days when I have 25 things on my list, but at least I know they are all captured somewhere, even if it isn’t that project’s “year” yet.
  3. I take my sometimes (okay, often) unrealistic To-Do list and pull a few of the highest-value tasks into a much more manageable list in my bullet journal. There are utilitarian bullet journals and ones that are mini art masterpieces. Mine is somewhere in between. My bujo contains To-Do lists done in colored pens in nice handwriting and decorated with washi tape. I will not be taking questions on the amount of washi tape I own. *cough*

MG: What do you like to spend money on that some people might consider a splurge or luxury?

Travel. I would rather live a modest retirement with thousands of stories to reminisce about than retire with a billion dollars after working non-stop until retirement age. Though I would be okay with having a billion dollars *and* going on multiple vacations around the globe each year. Netflix, call me!

Also, cute washi tape. Moving on.

SF: What’s the best thing you’ve bought in the last few months?

Renting an Air B&B up in Sedona for a long weekend with my husband and two grown kids. Being outside and hiking around the gorgeous red rocks recharged my spirit more than any expensive purse or shoes could have.

MG: What’s the biggest money mistake you’ve ever made?

Early in my writing career, I didn’t always write with a contract. I got burned so many times. Yes, it was for only a few hundred dollars each time, but the bigger issue was that I didn’t feel confident enough to insist on a contract.

SF: Tell me a financial rule that you never break.

Errr…how about I tell you the rule that has continued to plague me? It is the same problem as the previous answer, only in a different form: Undervaluing my work and giving away too much of my time, energy, and expertise. Yes, I want to be generous and helpful to others, but when a male counterpart is paid more than you for the same work (or worse, subpar work but done with chutzpah), you need to reevaluate your fee schedule. I get on my female friends regularly about undercharging for their products/services. I have lost count of the number of times I have overtipped or refused a discount because a businesswoman was undervaluing herself. This is where having a community is paramount.

You need to know what the going rate is in your area. If you have a mastermind group with other women in your field, then I challenge your group to set an agreed-upon amount so that your price becomes the area’s norm, not the exception.

My author mastermind group recently had a frank discussion about school visit fees, where I realized that my rates were way too low. Talking about money always feels squidgy, but we need to do it!